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The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation, Analogues, Criticism [Paperback]

By Benjamin R. Foster (Editor) & Benjamin R. Foster (Translator)
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Item description for The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation, Analogues, Criticism by Benjamin R. Foster...

More than a thousand years before Homer or the Bible, Mesopotamian poets sang of the hero-king Gilgamesh, who sought to crown his superhuman exploits by finding eternal life. This Norton Critical Edition presents translations by Benjamin R. Foster, Douglas Frayne, and Gary Beckman of the entire Gilgamesh narrative tradition, with some texts now in English for the first time. In addition to the eleven tablets of the great Akkadian epic, written around 1700 B.C.E., the book includes seven Sumerian poems about Gilgamesh, written before 2000 B.C.E., as well as the later Hittite version and other related sources, among them a Babylonian parody of the epic. "Criticism" provides interpretive essays by William Moran, Thorkild Jacobsen, and Rivkah Harris and concludes with a modern poetic response to the Gilgamesh epic by Hillary Major. A Glossary of Proper Names and a Selected Bibliography are also included.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: W. W. Norton & Company
Pages   229
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.32" Width: 5.13" Height: 0.53"
Weight:   0.6 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 7, 2005
Publisher   W. W. Norton
ISBN  0393975169  
ISBN13  9780393975161  

Availability  2 units.
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More About Benjamin R. Foster

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Benjamin R. Foster is the Laffan Professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature and curator of the Babylonian Collection at Yale University. Karen Polinger Foster is a lecturer in ancient Near Eastern and Aegean art at Yale.

Benjamin R. Foster has an academic affiliation as follows - Yale University.

Benjamin R. Foster has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Norton Critical Editions
  2. Writings from the Ancient World

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Classics
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Classics
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Criticism & Theory > General
4Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Criticism & Theory
5Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Anthologies
6Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Epic
7Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > General
8Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > Mythology > Gilgamesh
9Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > United States > History & Criticism > Literary Theory

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Epic of Gilgamesh (Norton Critical Editions)?

Not Up To Snuff  Jan 5, 2007
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a difficult text, both to translate and to read. I'm not a fan of translating Shamat (the woman who seduces & helps civilize Enkidu) as a "harlot." It's better than "prostitute" or "temple prostitute," but I think it has a very particular (negative) connotation in modern English that it probably didn't carry in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Bablylonian civilizations. On the other hand, Foster is the one who "knows" the language, not me. The ancillary material that Norton Critical editions contain, however, is the real problem with this edition. I very much enjoyed the inclusion of individual texts and stories from earlier epochs (i.e., Sumerian texts before the epic was "compiled"). And there is a useful discussion about the various "stages" of the text we read today (actually a first millennium BCE compilation - some 2000 years later than the first stories about Gilgamesh!). But the essays require more guidance, especially since many of them directly contradict Foster's introduction/translation, and unlike (e.g.) reading Shakespeare, only a handful of people in the WORLD can justly be referred to as experts on this material. So there needs to be some discussion of the included texts BY Foster (or another modern scholar) in order to give us wee non-experts some sort of ground to stand on.
Nice Starting Point  Apr 20, 2006
This is the "Standard" version as recorded by Sin-leqe-unninni with some gaps filled in by translations of other versions. Introduction, analogues and critical essays notwithstanding, the lack of contextual or other contemporary material necessitates additional research for a better understanding of the lay. Perhaps other translations for comparison would benefit the reader as well.
Didn't do much for me  Oct 17, 2004
I have the Penguin translation of the Epic, and I enjoy it very much. I picked up this book to get a more recent translation. I can't question the accuracy of the translation, since I'm not an expert but, from a literary standpoint, I found this translation lacking.

First, the tone shifts for no apparent reason. In some sections the characters speak like they're orating and then, all of a sudden, the language is peppered with slang.

Second, I find it inappropriate for translators to insert Christian mythological terms in ancient texts. For instance, this book calls the underworld "hell." While the Mesopotamian afterlife was hardly a keg party, to equate it with the Christian hell is simply inaccurate.

Finally, and most important, the translation fails to capture any sense of the power of the original. The language is dry. The structure of the sentences is stiff and the pacing is dull. Perhaps that's because this translation is academic in nature? Whatever the reason, the Epic won't continue to enthrall people for another several thousand years with translations like this.

As a side note: I didn't find the critical essays particularly interesting, so the book didn't work for me that way either. I'd pick the Penguin translation over this one in a heartbeat.
New Translation  Jul 20, 2004
The Norton Critical Edition of "The Epic of Gilgamesh" is a fairly recent translation of what is currently the oldest known epic. The epic was translated by Benjamin R. Foster. The book also includes "The Sumerian Gilgamesh Poems", translated by Douglas Frayne, and "The Hittite Gilgamesh", translated by Gary Beckman. In addition, there is "The Gilgamesh Letter", several essays discussing the epic, and an Introduction section which helps those who are new to the Epic with their first reading. The translation uses the "standard version" associated with Sin-leqe-unninni as its base, and supplements it with parts from other versions where there are gaps. There are also comments in the text to help the reader follow the passages easier.

An area of weakness of this book was in the area of editorial comments. For example, Mr. Foster states in the introduction:

"There is no evidence that The Epic of Gilgamesh began as an oral narrative performed by bards or reciters and coalesced into a written text only later. In fact, the poem as we now have it shows many signs of having been a formal, written, literary work composed and perhaps performed for well-educated people, especially scholars and members of a royal court."

This is in sharp contrast with other opinions which I have read regarding the origins of the Epic. While it may be that there is no conclusive proof one way or another, there clearly is some evidence to support the theory that it did begin as an oral narrative, just as there is evidence that it may not have. If Mr. Foster completely disregards the evidence on the other side of the argument, then one is left to wonder if there are other "facts" provided by the editor that are equally suspect. When comparing this translation to those by Alexander Heidel and Stephanie Dalley, one can see significant differences at the start of the epic where the other editors use as evidence which suggests that this was an oral narrative originally. Mr. Foster's translation though is worded in a way that does not suggest an oral origin.

On the whole, this was a very readable translation of the Epic. The supplementary material included is also very good. While I may disagree with some of the editor's opinions about the history of the work and the way he presents the evidence, this is still a good choice to read.
An excellent tool for understanding the ancient epic  Jan 17, 2003
Norton Critical Editions are known for providing authoritative texts or notable translations of important texts, and their edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh is no exception. The translation is easy to read without being simplistic, and is heavily (and helpfully) notated.

Where this edition really shines, though, is in providing a context for the work, not only in providing a variety of other Gilgamesh poems and critical interpretations, but in the excellent introduction on how to read the work. The introduction answers questions readers may have about the historical basis for the character of Gilgamesh, the history of the text itself, and provides general information on its style (such as why it continually repeats itself).

This version also includes a number of additional Gilgamesh stories from several different cultures, many of which are close parallels to the epic itself. Perhaps the most interesting (and certainly the weirdest) of these is Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, in which Gilgamesh loses his prized ball-and-stick game and Enkidu goes down to the Netherworld to get it.

If you're looking to get the most out of your Gilgamesh experience and understand the epic in a larger context, this edition is definitely for you.


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